Fact Sheets

16th Special Operations Squadron

The 16th Special Operations Squadron (16 SOS), located at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M, is one the flying squadrons assigned to the 27th Special Operations Wing. The squadron flies the AC-130H Spectre gunship, a heavily armed aircraft designed for close air support, armed reconnaissance, interdiction, night search and rescue, and airborne command and control. The 16 SOS trains and maintains its combat-ready force to provide highly accurate firepower in support of both conventional and unconventional forces.

The AC-130H, a modified Lockheed C-130E model aircraft, is configured with side-firing weapons, including one 40mm Bofors cannon and one Army 105mm Howitzer.

The 16 SOS became operational Oct. 30, 1968 at Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base as part of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing. Equipped first with the AC-130A model gunship and later with the more advanced AC-130E/H models, Spectre aircrews proudly flew the latest in the family of gunships, including the famous AC-47 Spooky, AC-119G Shadow and the AC-119K Stinger.

The Spectre was the most deadly night-flying weapons system in Southeast Asia. It destroyed or damaged an average of 10,000 trucks per year over the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Additional roles included defense of hamlets and fire bases, troops in contact with the enemy, convoy escort and battlefield illumination. The Spectre achieved 1,327 consecutive on-time combat mission launches.

The Spectre moved to Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, July 19, 1974 as part of the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing, and concluded its involvement in Southeast Asia from that location. Having participated in every major campaign, the Spectre now supported the evacuations of Saigon, Phnom Penh and figured prominently in the rescue of the Mayaguez. Spectre's distinguished record in Southeast Asia was not achieved without cost; we honor the memories of 52 aircrew members who were killed in action.

The Spectre moved to its present home as part of the 16th Special Operations Wing on Dec. 12, 1975. Modified for in-flight refueling, the gunships now have virtually unlimited range. This capability was demonstrated in November 1979 after a record endurance flight of 29.7 hours from Hurlburt to Andersen Air Force Base, Guam.

Spectre was overhead in Grenada Oct. 25, 1983 paving the way for the assault by multi-national forces, which liberated the island. Spectre was praised for "saving the day" by providing last-second surveillance and intelligence to the air assault forces, silencing anti-aircraft artillery emplacements, knocking out enemy armored personnel carriers, defending political dignitaries surrounded by enemy troops and relieving troops in combat.

From late December 1989 to early January 1990, the gunship participated in the reestablishment of democracy in the Republic of Panama during Operation Just Cause. 16 SOS aircrews received the MacKay Trophy and the 1989 Military Airlift Command Aircrew of the Year, for their actions destroying the headquarters for the Panamanian Defense Force, and providing fire support for the Army Ranger assault on Rio Hato Air Base.

The 16 SOS arrived in Saudi Arabia Sept. 12, 1990 to participate in Operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield, the protection of Saudi Arabia and liberation of Kuwait. The unit flew 50 combat missions in Desert Storm and lost one aircraft and 14 brave airmen Jan. 31, 1991, while supporting coalition forces engaged in the Battle of Khafji, Saudi Arabia.

During 1993 and 1994, the 16 SOS deployed to Africa in support of Operation Continue Hope, the United Nations relief effort in Somalia. Spectre crews based out of Djibouti struck targets in Mogadishu, and later deployed to Kenya to ensure security for UN forces. During this deployment, a gunship was destroyed due to an in-borne detonation of the 105mm gun while airborne. Eight of the 14 aircrew members lost their lives.

The 16 SOS deployed to Italy in support of Operation Deny Flight periodically from July 1993 until its termination Aug. 28, 1995. Spectre actively patrolled the hostile skies over Bosnia-Herzegovina, providing protective air cover and close air support to UN protection forces.

While maintaining the Operation Deny Flight mission, the 16 SOS was deployed to other parts of the world for 184 days. From Sept. 18 to Oct. 19, 1994, it deployed to Cuba in support of Operation Uphold Democracy and provided air support to coalition forces during the ouster of Gen Raoul Cedras and restoration of the legitimate, democratic government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide in Haiti.

From Jan. 30 until March 2, 1995, the 16 SOS returned to Africa in support of Operation United Shield, the withdrawal of UN forces from Mogadishu, Somalia. On the final night of this operation, the gunships provided real time intelligence to ground commanders via armed reconnaissance and surveillance during the US Marine amphibious withdrawal from Mogadishu.

Operation Deny Flight became Operation Deliberate Force on Aug. 19, 1995. It was the largest NATO air operation in history. On the first night, "GHOST-31", aircraft 69-6568 struck an artillery/mortar position southeast of Sarajevo, thus marking the first time this aircraft had ever fired in combat. The 16th SOS flew multiple combat search and rescue sorties from Sept. 6-8, 1995 in support of the rescue attempt of a French Mirage aircrew downed by a surface-to-air missile near Pale. During the operation, which lasted until Sept. 15, 1995, the 16th SOS expended 268 rounds of 105MM and 125 rounds of 40MM against early warning radar sites and command and control facilities. The 16th SOS also participated in Operations Decisive Endeavor, Joint Endeavor, Assured Response, Deliberate Guard, Joint Guard, Goal Keeper and Wintering Over.

Following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Spectre deployed on Nov. 11, 2001 to a location near Afghanistan to support Operation Enduring Freedom. The 16 SOS is continues to support coalition ground troops as part of the Global War on Terror.

The day after arriving in Afghanistan, the 16 SOS attacked Taliban and Al-Qaeda forces near the city of Konduz in support of Northern Alliance forces, and was directly responsible for the city's surrender the next day. On Nov. 26, 2001, Spectre was called in to put down a rebellion at the prison fort of Qual-a-Jinga. While supporting the beleaguered U.S. and allied forces throughout the night with withering 40mm and 105mm fire, Spectre succeeded in smashing the rebellion of Taliban and Al-Qaeda POWs.

While deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, the 16 SOS flew missions over Mazar-E-Shariff, Konduz, Kandahar, Shkin, Asadabad, Bagram, Baghran, Tora Bora, and virtually every other part of Afghanistan. Spectre participated in countless operations within Afghanistan including Operations Full Throttle, Roll Tide, and Eagle Fury. Spectre also performed on-call close air support and armed reconnaissance over Kandahar after an assassination attempt against Afghanistan's new, democratically elected leader, President Karzai.

In March 2002, the 16 SOS provided 39 crucial combat missions in support of Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan. With only 3 aircraft and 3 crews, the squadron amassed 322 combat hours over 12 days, resulting in 45 enemy killed in action, nine vehicles destroyed, 11 damaged vehicles, and 12 destroyed and 25 damaged buildings. During the intense fighting, the squadron expended more than 1,300 40MM and 1,200 105MM rounds, saving American lives with quick, decisive actions. Spectre crews repeatedly displayed tremendous heroism to support troops in contact. Their actions earned them the 2002 Mackay trophy, and the 2002 Air Force aviator valor awards. In addition, in 2002 the 16 SOS was the third most deployed unit in the Air Force.

The 16 SOS guidon is adorned with two Presidential Unit Citations, four Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards with devices for valor, 10 campaign streamers and the Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm.

16th Ferrying Squadron (constituted 16th Air Corps Ferrying Squadron on 18 Feb 1942; activated on 16 Apr 1942; redesignated 16th Ferrying Squadron on 12 May 1943; disbanded on 1 Apr 1944; reconstituted on 19 Sep 1985) consolidated (19 Sep 1985) with the 16th Combat Cargo Squadron (constituted on 9 Jun 1944; activated on 13 Jun 1944; inactivated on 29 Dec 1945; disbanded on 8 Oct 1948; reconstituted on 19 Sep 1985) and the 16th Special Operations Squadron (constituted on 11 Oct 1968; activated on 30 Oct 1968).

Middle West Sector, Air Corps Ferrying Command (later, 5th Ferrying Group), 16th Apr 1942-1 Apr 1944. 4th Combat Cargo Group, 13 Jun 1944; Army Air Forces, India-Burma Theater, 5 Sep 1945; 4th Combat Cargo Group, c. Oct-29 Dec 1945. 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, 30 Oct 1968 (attached to 388th Tactical Fighter Wing, 19 Jul 1974-8 Dec 1975); Tactical Air Command, 8 Dec 1975; 1st Special Operations Wing, 12 Dec 1975; 1st Special Operations (later, 16th Operations) Group, 22 Sep 1992-15 November 2006. 1st Special Operations Group, 16 November 2006- 19 June 2009.

Hensley Field, Grand Prairie, Texas,  April 16, 1942; Love Field, Dallas, Texas, Sept. 8, 19421 April 1, 1944. Syracuse Army Air Base, N.Y., June 13, 1944; Bowman Field, Ky.,  Aug. 16-Nov. 9, 1944; Sylhet, India,  Dec. 7,1944; Argartala, India, Dec. 20,1944; Chittagong, India, Jan. 31, 1945; Namponmao, Burma,  June 11, 1945; Ledo, India, Sept. 3, 1945; Namponmao, Burma, Oct. 1945; Ondal, India, Nov.- Dec.  29, 1945. Ubon RTAFB, Thailand, Oct. 30, 1968; Korat, Royal Thai Air Force Base,Thailand, July 19, 1974; Eglin AF Aux Airfield #9 (Hurlburt Field), Fla, Dec . 12, 1975- June 18, 2009; Cannon AFB, June 19, 2009 - Present.

Unkn (ferried tactical and support aircraft), 1942-1944. C-47, 1944, 1945; C-46, 1944-1945. AC-130, 1968- Present.

Service Streamers
World War II
American Theater

Campaign Streamers
World War II
Central Burma
China Offensive

Vietnam Air Offensive, Phase III
Vietnam Air Offensive, Phase IV
TET 69/Counteroffensive
Vietnam Summer-Fall, 1969
Vietnam Winter-Spring, 1970
Sanctuary Counteroffensive
Southwest Monsoon
Commando Hunt V
Commando Hunt VI
Commando Hunt VII
Vietnam Ceasefire

Southwest Asia
Defense of Saudi Arabia
Liberation and Defense of Kuwait

Armed Forces Expeditionary Streamers
Panama 1989-1990

Presidential Unit Citations
Southeast Asia
1 Dec 69-1 Mar 70
1 Jan-1 Apr 71

Gallant Unit Citation
6 Oct 01-30 May 03

Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards with Combat "V" Device
1 Jan-31 Dec 70
1 Oct 71-31 Mar 72
1 Apr-22 Oct 72
18 Dec 72-15 Aug 73
15 Oct 74-12 May 75
13-15 May 75
1 May 82-30 Apr 84
1 Jun 97-31 May 99
1 Jul 03-1 Jun 05
1 Sep 06-30 Jun 07

Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards
1 Jan 76-31 Mar 77
15 Jul 79-15 May 80
16 May 80-30 Apr 82
1 May 85-30 Apr 87
1 May 88-30 Apr 90
16 Apr 92-15 Apr 94
1 Jun 95-31 May 97
1 Jul 99- 30 Jun 01
1 Jul 01-30 Jun 03
1 Sep 04-31 Aug 06

Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm
30 Oct 1968-28 Jan 1973

Emblem Significance: Ultramarine blue and Air Force yellow are the Air Force colors. Blue alludes to the sky, the primary theater of Air Force operations. Yellow refers to the sun and the excellence required of Air Force personnel. The Spectre has been a symbol of the 16th Special Operations Squadron and the AC-130 gunship since inception in the late 1960's. The Spectre appearing at night in a "covert" manner represents the unit's special operations mission. It also represents the unit's gunship nighttime mission, to attack quickly and precisely and then vanish; much like the phantoms of folklore do. The unit's motto "Spectre" represents the nickname of the aircraft the squadron has flown since the Vietnam War and the "Spectre" symbol. 

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Featured Video

The 17 SOS, known as the Jackals, is the latest squadron activated as part of Air Force Special Operations Command force generation model. See how they're people are driving CAFB into future operating environments!

3rd Quarterly Community Meeting

Video by Staff Sgt. Peter Reft
September 2021 Cannon AFB PFOS/PFOA Virtual Meeting
27th Special Operations Wing
Sept. 15, 2021 | 01:12:58
The 27th Special Operations Wing and the Air Force Civil Engineer Center hosted a virtual public meeting to provide updates to its on-going actions to address Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS), identified at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico.

This is the third meeting of a planned series of quarterly meetings focused on the Air Force’s response to PFAS. AFCEC’s environmental experts will be available to answer questions regarding these efforts. The Air Force welcomes and encourages public participation and involvement.